Massachusetts is where America’s history comes alive. It’s where the pilgrims landed with hopes for a better life in the New World and it’s where the first shots rang out in the American Revolution. From iconic Plymouth Rock to Boston’s historic Fanueil Hall, from the dunes of Cape Cod to the rolling hills of the Berkshires, Massachusetts’ seamless blend of history, culture, nature, and city life has endeared it to the millions of tourists who visit every year. Massachusetts is also one of America’s most forward-thinking states. It’s home to M.I.T. and Harvard, two of the most respected institutes of higher learning in the world, as well as some of the country’s best art museums and tech startups. Whether you’re walking down Boston’s Freedom Trail, exploring the whaling history of Nantucket, or browsing the world-class shops of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts’ incredible diversity of activities and down-to-earth people make it arguably the best destination in New England.
The European settlement of the area that is now known as Massachusetts, began in 1620 when the Pilgrims, Puritan religious dissenters from England, landed at Plymouth Rock. The colonists set up a series of fisheries and trading posts, forming the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1629. Centered in Boston, the Company governed the Bay Colony as a private entity for the next 50 years. During this time, Massachusetts was essentially a Puritan theocracy. The Puritans fanatically pushed for the development of educational institutions to teach Christian texts. Out of this impetus was born the now-secular Harvard University in 1636.
The very next year, resentment on the part of the Pequot Indians led to the Pequot War, in which the Massachusetts Bay colony banded together with three other colonies to secure their settlements. The Pequot suffered an enormous setback, but the settlers’ triumph soon turned to anger after the British government revoked the colony’s charter in 1684, citing repeated violations of its terms.
In 1691, Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, and Maine were all united into a single colony, governed by a secular constitution. The colony’s economy grew steadily as it expanded from traditional agriculture to trans-Atlantic trading of slaves, fish, lumber and more.
In the late 1700’s, resentment of British policies such as the Stamp and Tea Acts led to the Boston Tea Party of 1773. The first battles of the American Revolution were fought in Massachusetts at Lexington and Concord.
After America’s independence, Massachusetts faced grim economic conditions, as exemplified by Shay’s Rebellion of 1794. Trade routes with Britain had been shut off. Though Boston profited from trade with China, the rest of the state didn’t fare well. Things turned around, rather ironically, in the War of 1812 when the U.S. was forced to develop its own manufacturing base, much of which sprang up in Massachusetts. In the state, the textile industry soared while agriculture plummeted, causing many farmers to head west.
Massachusetts in the early 1800’s was also a bastion of abolitionist thought and social reform. In fact, Massachusetts troops were the first to die for the Union cause during the Baltimore riot of 1861.
In the next decades, Massachusetts grew economically, and also in population as scores of European immigrants arrived and built up the state’s urban infrastructure.
Today, Massachusetts is a powerhouse for the arts, culture, tourism and technological research.
Boston: The capital of Massachusetts is where old meets new. Towering skyscrapers overlook key sites of the American Revolution. Walk down the Freedom Trail and relive those crucial moments in our nation’s history. This 2.5 mile path winds its way from the USS Constitution (aka “Old Ironsides”), a naval frigate launched in 1797 and a veteran of several battles, to Boston Common, a former British military camp and now America’s oldest municipal park. A highlight of the walk is the Boston Tea Party Museum, a floating museum featuring live actors, interactive exhibits and the chance to actually dump tea in the river like the patriots did over 250 years ago. Other interesting sites along the Trail include Fanueil Hall, the site of Samuel Adams’ passionate pro-independence speeches, and Paul Revere’s humble wood house, home to the legendary patriot who warned the rebels of the coming British attack at Lexington and Concord.
Located just off the Trail is the New England Holocaust Memorial, consisting of six glass towers representing six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.
The Boston Museum of Fine Arts is the city’s largest art museum. It houses an incredible array of artifacts from all over the world including French impressionist paintings, ancient Chinese art, an indoor Japanese garden, and Rothschild family treasures.
The J.F.K. Presidential Library & Museum, located on Columbia Point, is a must-see for those interested in American history and politics. Seven permanent exhibits trace Kennedy’s presidency from the campaign trail to the Space Race to his assassination. There are also exhibits about his wife Jackie and brother Robert, in addition to a collection of author Ernest Hemingway’s documents and belongings.
The Boston Public Library doubles as a museum. One of the biggest and most beautiful libraries in America, its vast collection of original documents includes early editions of Shakespeare’s works, John Adams’ personal book collection, the papers of prominent abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and more.
For something more modern, check out the Boston area’s numerous science museums. The most well-known is the Museum of Science, featuring such fascinating exhibits as an optical illusion room, the world’s largest Van de Graaf generator and an interactive math display that’s great for the kids.
The Harvard Museum of Natural History shows visitors the best of Earth’s natural wonders including an extensive fossil collection, gemstones and meteorites, and plants. However, the museum’s main claim to fame is its stunning glass flower collection, which visitors often cannot believe aren’t real. While you’re at Harvard, head over to the Semitic Museum, showing off the most interesting artifacts of the ancient Middle East. From mummy sarcophagi to the Laws of Hammurabi to a recreation of an Iron Age Israelite house, this collection can’t be missed.
Finally, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Science Museum has one of the world’s largest collections of holograms, in addition to exhibits about robotics, nautical engineering, and vintage Polaroid cameras and photos.
If you’re interested in a little R&R, Boston has you covered. Located near Boston Common is the Boston Common Garden. This lush park is famous for having the world’s shortest suspension bridge as well as pleasant swan boat rides.
But an even more worthwhile destination is Boston Harbor Islands State Park. These islands are perfect for hiking, biking, picnicking, swimming, boating and more. The most popular is Georges Island where Civil War-era Fort Warren looms large and which offers excellent views of Boston Light on tiny nearby Little Brewster Island.
Before you leave Boston, don’t forget to take a ride up to the Prudential Center’s Skywalk Observatory where visitors can enjoy a commanding view of one of America’s most historic cities.
For a short day trip out of Boston, consider going to Plymouth to see the famous rock that (allegedly) marks where the Pilgrims landed. Nearby is the Plimoth Plantation, a full-scale recreation of a Pilgrim settlement circa 1627. Costumed staff show visitors what life was like back then including weaving, blacksmithing, cooking, planting and more. And no trip to Plymouth would be complete without seeing the Mayflower II, a complete, tourable replica of its 17th century predecessor.
Lexington and Concord: Separated by a distance of about 7 miles, these two charming towns, located west of Boston, are where the battle for America’s independence began. Concord is particularly noted for its scenic beauty, having influenced such authors as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau. The tranquil town and kaleidoscope of fall foliage belie the fact that this was the site of a bloody battle. Head to the Old North Bridge where the first shot of the war (aka the “shot heard round the world”) was fired. The nearby Buttrick Mansion has a video about the battle as well as a Revolutionary War cannon. Fans of Henry David Thoreau can visit his restored farmhouse, located 4 miles east of Concord.
Lexington’s upscale shops and heavy tourist influx stand in marked contrast to Concord. Reenactments of the Battle of Lexington happen on the Battle Green every Patriot’s Day (April 19th). The Parker Boulder, named for the commander of the local minutemen regiment, marks where these 77 men fought and died against the British in 1775. An inscription on the plaque reads, “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon. But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” Across the street stands the Old Belfry that signaled the beginning of the revolution.
Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard: Cape Cod, an arm-shaped peninsula sticking out of eastern Massachusetts, is New England’s premier summer vacation spot. The cape’s pristine dunes, quaint seaside hamlets, towering lighthouses, and perfect sunsets are not to be missed. The commercial center of Cape Cod is Hyannis where tourists can rent boats, go on whale watching trips, shop, see the local J.F.K. museum, or tour the kosher Cape Cod Potato Chip factory.
At the very tip of the Cape lies Provincetown, once home to famous writers and artists, and now the scene of a bustling tourist industry. Historically, this is where the Mayflower Compact, the first constitution governing the Bay Colony, was signed aboard the ship in 1620. This is commemorated by Pilgrim Monument, a 252-foot tall tower that one can climb to the top of for breathtaking views of the city and surrounding bay. The beautiful beach surrounding Provincetown has been often been named as one of the best in the country. Like Hyannis, Provincetown offers ample opportunities for whale watching, cruising, fishing and more.
Just off the coast of Cape Cod lies the island/town of Nantucket. Renowned for its role in inspiring Herman Melville to write Moby Dick, Nantucket is one of the most picturesque places in New England. From quaint cobblestone streets to lighthouses to pristine beaches and dramatic cliffs, Nantucket is a fantastic place to unwind, have fun and appreciate the scenery. The town has a whaling museum, exploring a key part of the island’s history and culture. The museum has harpoons, longboats and a huge sperm whale skeleton. Other sites on the island include Brant Point Light, an aquarium, and the extremely popular beaches (don’t go in the summer if you want to avoid crowds). For a nice day trip, Nantucket Adventures runs seal watching tours between Nantucket Island and nearby Muskeget Island.
Between Nantucket and the mainland lies Martha’s Vineyard. Like Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard has plenty of natural beauty and isn’t affected by the kind of unbridled commercialism found on the mainland, although it is a popular vacation spot for Hollywood celebrities. Tisbury is the main entry point for visitors and has many beautiful boutique shops and traditional wooden schooner boats. For some of the best hiking in the state, Gay Head Cliffs feature a majestic view of the ocean and beach below. If you’re interested in seeing the homes of the rich and famous, head to Chilmark, which has some of Massachusetts’ highest property values.
Massachusetts has a large number of Orthodox shuls. For Boston, there is the Chabad House of Greater Boston, located at 491 Commonwealth Ave. (chabadboston.org) as well as the Zvhil – Mezbuz Beis Medrash at 15 School St. (rebbe.org)
For Cape Cod, there is Congregation Beth Israel of Onset at 7 Locust St., Buzzard’s Bay (capecodshul.org) Those travelling to Nantucket can visit Chabad Lubavitch of Nantucket in Hyannis at 745 W. Main St. (chabadcapecod.com)
For a complete listing of Orthodox shuls, visit: http://www.shamash.org/links/Synagogue_and_Temple/Orthodox/Massachusetts/
Massachusetts (Boston in particular) is also home to numerous kosher restaurants. A notable one is Milk Street Cafe in the heart of Boston’s Financial District. The restaurant offers reasonably priced, healthy foods such as paninis, salads and baked goods. Many more kosher establishments are located on Boston’s west side including the unique Team China Restaurant, featuring an all-kosher traditional Chinese menu.
For kosher food in Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, consult with the two shuls mentioned above.
A round trip economy flight to Boston’s Logan airport ranges between $250 and $530 per adult depending on the date. Round-trip Greyhound tickets cost around $360 per person while round-trip Amtrak tickets come in the $200 per person range. A drive to Boston from Los Angeles takes about 43 hours across 3,000 miles of the country.
(Sources: Tripadvisor, Wikitravel, Lonely Planet, Fodor’s)